After recent patient killings, Md. names new head of Perkins, the state psych hospital

Maryland officials have named a new chief executive to head the Clifton T. Perkins Hospital in Jessup after two patient-on-patient killings within a week at Maryland’s maximum security psychiatric hospital.

The leadership change announced Wednesday is the fourth shift in the top spot since February when the former CEO, who had been in the job since 2006, was replaced by a succession of two interim directors.

On Oct. 28, the hospital saw its second killing in a week and the third in the last 13 months.

The 248-bed hospital chiefly houses patients accused of felonies who are deemed criminally insane and prisoners who became mentally ill while jailed.

A state investigation into a September 2010 strangulation of a patient concluded that staff had been inattentive the night of that killing, including not regularly checking rooms and appearing to sleep or watch TV on the job. Hospital officials increased safety measures and conducted retraining after that report, they said after that investigation.

On Friday, after the second of the two more recent killings, state officials announced another safety overhaul.

The new CEO will be Dr. David Helsel, who since 2004 has been CEO of the state’s Spring Grove Hospital Center in Catonsville, which also is a psychiatric facility. Helsel will formally take over at Perkins on Nov. 14, but already has been meeting with senior staff there, according to a press release from Maryland’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Helsel’s “steady hand will help guide Perkins through this difficult time,” said Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, secretary of the state department.

Cheryl Heilman will become interim CEO at Spring Grove where she has been chief of clinical operations.

Mary Pat Flaherty works on investigative and long-range stories. Her work has won numerous national awards, including the Pulitzer Prize.

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